The Wolf: Series Review

2020 was, for me, the Year of Xiao Zhan. He captivated me in The Untamed (and yes, I watched both the Netflix version and the special edition version — more Xiao Zhan/Wang Yibo scenes), made me catch my breath with his cliffhanger role in Joy of Life, broke my heart with the traumatic negativity and cyber harassment to which he was subjected, and tickled my fancies with each musical appearance and small sighting on Weibo or Douyin (Tiktok), so there was no question that when The Wolf was released in one surprising all-in-one upload (rather than weekly installments) that I was going to watch it. Sure, it was his first major role, he’d expressed concerns about how nervous he was to have people see him as such a novice and judge him for his inexperience, but baby, he had nothing to worry about!

Oh, and note: I’m going to avoid specific spoilers in this review, but there will be some comments that indicate a direction or two in the plot that are minor hints of outcomes. Feel free to read on without risk of having things ruined egregiously 🙂

That’s not to say that this is a perfect drama, a perfect drama, even a pretty good drama because, to be frank, it’s got some rocky moments. It’s also important to note that technically, Xiao Zhan is not the lead male character — Darren Wang is the titular Wolf — but for a number of reasons, for all intents and purposes, you could argue that he is the male protagonist, the one who truly walks away as a survivor, just as he has at the end of this horrible year.

The story is a hybrid fantasy, star-crossed lovers mish-mash that was not helped by the scissors of censorship; originally the Wolf in question was intended to be more of a werewolf (per early trailers), along with his loyal pack, er, team of the “Night Fiends” (members of a sort of a crack paramilitary squad), but with the cuts came a loss of character depth and plot for Darren Wang’s part of the story. He’s now just a human raised by wolves (but with the benefit of being hyper in-tune with nature and being shockingly strong and vulnerable to a certain herb that brings out the beast in him). He meets the lovely, strong, brave, and often naive daughter of an important member of the court, head of an important army supporting the king of Yang. She’s played by Li Qin (you may remember her from Joy of Life, or Xiao Zhan’s movie Jade Dynasty). They frolic and live a happy life exploring the mountains of her hometown, until things go wrong and suddenly they don’t. Misunderstandings and tragedy happen and the big, bad Emperor of Yang is at fault. Said big, bad Emperor of Yang is played by a familiar face, Ding Yongdai, who was the big, bad emperor in Nirvana In Fire. In fact, there is a lot of his performance that feels like he was just channeling that previous (better) performance.

He’s captured wolf-boy (yes, that’s how he’s called by his sweetie), tamed him, made him a tool of war, and even adopted him, making him Prince Bo. But this is never an easy task; just as in all court scenarios, there are ambitious other princes/misunderstandings/tragedies/suspicions/etc. and Prince Bo is often called upon by his adoptive father and Ruler to do his dirty work. This dirty work involves an engagement to his former playmate Ma Zhaixing (Li Qin) in order to keep the army loyal to her under control even though he now hates her/loves her. I did say big, bad Emperor was involved in cooking up some misunderstandings and tragedies, right? Well, he did a number on Ma Zhaixing, but because he’s put the blame on a neighboring kingdom, the Jin, she’s unaware of the truth and labors along under various misconceptions. “Why does he look just like Wolf Boy? Why does he hate me one minute and is nice to me another?”

Into this mix comes a rough-and-tumble brash bounty hunter, Ji Chong (Xiao Zhan), who is captivated by Li Qin and works hard to be her friend and supporter. He’s the one who stands behind her when Prince Bo is treating her badly, and is a clever and resourceful ally. And he’s easily the best-looking of the men in her circle, in spite of the fact that the shooting conditions where rough, causing Xiao Zhan eye problems and skin issues (but we love the stubble the director encouraged him to grow). The minute Ji Chong enters the story things pick up, in part because he’s not part of what must have been the werewolf part of the original plot and therefore his storyline is not as choppy, but mainly because he just brings a freshness and visual honesty to his performance that is lacking in his love rival’s. The open, observant gaze of Xiao Zhan’s Ji Chong is so much more realistic and appealing than the often shifty, squinty, surly gaze of Darren Wang’s Prince Bo. Ji Chong’s emotions and intelligence is right at the surface level; when he’s feeling something, you know what it is and it’s not overplayed. When he’s not speaking in a scene, he’s acting his role as the listener too and frankly, it’s no wonder that when Ma Zhaixing is delivering a speech the camera is often on Ji Chong capturing his reactions! I wonder just how much they changed the story to give him more screen time when they saw how much the camera loved him…

Another person who is just loved by the camera (in spite of the absolutely atrocious hair and costumes given her character — and let me add that the costumes in general for this show look like they were constructed from the scrap yardage bins at the local fabric shop, opting for shiny and/or frayed and/or netting whenever possible) is Xin Zhilei, playing Yao Ji, a sort of hybrid priestess/healer/maybe ex-werewolf? and rival/frenemy to Prince Bo. She was the lovely Haiting Duo Duo in Joy of Life and she has a luminous quality to her performance. I think she outshone Li Qin on a number of occasions; for all her beauty, Li Qin often looks fragile and brittle, but as that’s not out of keeping given what traumas her character endures, it’s not a negative against her looks, but at times her performance is as brittle as she looks. Being a dubbed drama, it’s hard to know how much of this is the way lines are delivered on set versus in dubbing, but it’s clear that she does not have the fluidity of Xiao Zhan’s delivery, nor of more seasoned actors, such as the one who plays the King of the Jin.

Is this drama worth 49 episodes? IMO, if Xiao Zhan were not in it and he did not deliver the performance that he did even as a rookie, I would have to say “no, no it’s not.” There are some good moments, but very few very good moments, and a lot of meh or even borderline laughable moments, but definitely not enough to put this drama in the must-see category. (Of course if you’re a Darren Wang or Li Qin fan, have at it!) I spent a lot of the non-Ji Chong scenes with my finger on the fast-forward button — watch a minute to get the plot advancing gist of the scene and zip to the next — and I’m not in the least bit sorry!

#darren-wang, #ding-yong-dai, #guo-shu-yao, #li-qin, #the-wolf, #wang-talu, #xiao-zhan, #xin-zhi-lei

Checking out iQIYI

Robin, I checked out the site that you recommended and was happy to find one drama which I couldn’t find elsewhere – the new one with Yoo Inna and Eric Mun — a pleasant surprise. Don’t know how good the actual drama is but I always enjoy watching her… I’ll think about getting the trial month, probably when I have more time to explore better. Luckily this drama is free, with the usual commercial interruptions.

There is another drama that I’d heard a lot about called The World of the Married. I was interested because someone wrote that it had a Doctor Foster-like plot and I did enjoy Doctor Foster. I was hoping to find it there…no luck. Unfortunately it only seems to be available on Netflix US and not on Netflix Canada — hopefully it will be available here soon but I’m not keeping my fingers crossed. Such a pity not all Netflix sites are created the same. I got excited for a second until I realized that fact!!

Oh well…

#eccentric-chef-moon-2, #eric-moon, #eric-mun, #iqiyi, #the-world-of-the-married, #yoo-inna

Happy New Year, Chingus! (And a couple of mentions)

It is with no regret that we bid goodbye to 2020 and await 2021 with hopeful patience but hopefully there were some good memories we can take away nonetheless!!

Dramas do present a nice escape from reality..even for a little while. So..just sharing some comments about a new drama that I just started.

It had been ages since I’d checked out a Taiwanese drama and I was curious about the actor Jasper Liu whom I’d heard about but never seen. I found a drama on Netflix called Before We get Married which looked interesting so I checked it out.

I’ve only seen about three episodes but so far I’m enjoying it. First of all, to my relief, there is only one annoying over the top character so that is a good thing. I really like the heroine (Puff Kuo), she’s a beautiful, classy actress and she has great chemistry with Jasper.

The storyline is pretty simple — both are in relationships..she is happy looking forward to marrying her boyfriend — they have a plan about their future, even to small details… how much to spend daily… when she can sleep over (only Saturday night), etc, etc. He is in a 10 year relationship with a girl but it looks like it’s a “duty” relationship since he promised her mom that he would take care of her. There’s pity there but definitely no romantic love.

She loses her purse which contains her diary, he finds it and (of course) reads it and sees how planned out her life is and he challenges her on it and that’s the beginning of a rocky relationship, but it’s also the beginning of great tension filled scenes. It’s also the beginning of self exploration on her part..is the plan she’s following HER life plan or HIS life plan which she has no say in..he is the perfect representation of temptation as he pursues her but he graciously accepts her denial and refusal..telling her that they just met each other too late..but of course that doesn’t mean that emotions go away does it? Her boyfriend is the usual sweet but boring guy…though lately they’ve made him really dumb which is an obvious ploy to give her reason to become disatisifed with her life..I don’t know what’s ahead and I hope it doesn’t falter too much but so far I’ve been enchanted with Jasper and his ridiculously cute dimples..lol..and..though I really dislike bangs I have to admit that she really is the exception to my rule…a cautious thumbs up.

#before-we-get-married, #jasper-liu, #puff-guo

Series Review: Hikaru No Go

Call it a coincidence, but it’s a strange thing to start The Queen’s Gambit at pretty much the same time as Hikaru No Go, but the result is that I’m now seeing game patterns everywhere! Eh, not really, but two simultaneous game-playing dramas is a lot, but in a very good way. Chess versus Go (or Weiqi in Chinese), it’s amazing how the directors could manage to create dramatic tension in scenes involving placing pieces on squares on a board, but hats off to both productions!

Master and pupil

This review is about Hikaru No Go, so I’ll leave comments on the other drama to others’ opinions (though I liked it), so without further a-do… And, this is a generally spoiler-free review, with no major plot points revealed unless marked as a spoiler!

This series (available with English captions on the iQIYI app as well as on their YouTube channel) is adapted with the author’s permission from a very popular Japanese manga and anime series. I’m not familiar with either, but have seen generally favorable comments re: the adaptation to give it a more Chinese setting and feel (other than some jingoistic ‘wasn’t the handover of Hong Kong back to China wonderful’ scenes at the start of the drama to give it a time/place setting which may seem heavy-handed to some viewers). In particular, the praise is given and due to the cast of the live-action adaptation, particularly in the roles of the accidental prodigy Shi Guang (Hu Xianxu) and the spiritual (literally) weiqi mentor Chu Ying (Zhang Chao). The cast of secondary and supporting characters also satisfies in all aspects, notably Shi Guang’s friends Hong He, played by Zhao Haohong, Gu Yu (Ji Li), Shen Yi Lang (Sun Can), and Shi Guang’s rival Yu Liang (Hao Fushen).

Other members of the 4 Musketeers

The story introduces us to car-obsessed 9-year-old Shi Guang, raised in a single-parent home, which leaves him plenty of unsupervised time to goof off, play around, and live a normal boy life. Mucking around in his grandfather’s attic, looking for something he might be able to sell to finance his model car addiction, he comes across an old weiqi board and, through the mysteries of fate, triggers the resurrection of an ancient master of Go, Chu Ying. Equal parts freaked out and intrigued, Shi Guang comes to accept the appearance of this ghostly persona and learns about his new seemingly companion. Chu Ying is in this interim afterlife because his quest for the perfect Go move was unfulfilled and he’s looking for the person he can mentor to find it — in this current lifetime it appears to be Shi Guang. Shi Guang sees this as a chance to win money from his grandfather (who likes weiqi), and agrees to let Chu Ying guide him through some games. They search for an opponent and come across a club, part of the holdings of the current champion Go master Yu Xiaoyang (played by Jiang Baichaun), the father of Yu Liang. Raised to be a super-Go nerd/future champion, young Yu Liang is playing in the club and, thinking that it would be best to play a peer, Shi Guang challenges him to a match. The unhappy outcome devastates both boys in ways that haunt them, but results in Shi Guang fleeing the responsibility to help Chu Ying. It takes a bullying incident in high school to reunite the two, and set the stage for the future/present (albeit still the past) growth of Shi Guang in the study of Go.

Pursuing Dan levels

As mentioned, there is a lot of time devoted to the placement of black and white stones on the Go board in this series, and yes, that could be boring, but somehow the characters and settings do keep it lively. The friendship between Chu Ying and Shi Guang is as real as the more ‘normal/earthly’ ones with Hong He or others in his school circles, or the uneasy rivalry/almost yearning for friendship thing he has with Yu Liang. That’s a tribute to the young actors, especially Hu Xianxu. They’ve chosen to have Shi Guang converse directly to/with Chu Ying as if he’s physically in his presence most of the time, but on occasion it’s an internal conversation taking place in his mind — one might ask if all conversations really happen in the mind, or if Chu Ying is a manifested presence most of the time and this just lets us “see” him too because most of the time no one looks twice at Shi Guang when he’s doing something like talking to Chu Ying as he’s walking down the street — either way it doesn’t really matter as much as the bond they demonstrate in the story.

Meeting of the masters

What I found very interesting (and a little bit shocking) was that Shi Guang was allowed to leave school to enter the Go Academy (and it made me think back to Im Siwan’s character in Misaeng, who was on a similar path), rather than get a diploma. Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket! This is such a high burden proposition, especially as Shi Guang moves from taking direction on where to place the stones to taking responsibility for his games himself (though still being mentored by Chu Ying outside of official games). The professional and emotional risks are high as this is now his chosen career and he still is trying to help Chu Ying find his special Go move (and, one could say, find meaning to his life and move on in the afterlife). The miracles of online Go play have a special role in this drama (though a huge part of me snickered to think that online games and connectivity — especially connectivity! — could have been anything like that reliable back in the mid-part of the first decade of this century… right?)

Rivals > friends?

In addition to the successful casting of the characters and the generally thoughtful adaptation of the story, the look and feel of the drama is also of a high quality. It’s fair to say that some of the best looking contemporary pieces in Chinese dramas this year have aired on iQIYI, which is why I’ll be keeping this streaming service next year too. There are a few scenes in the last few episodes leading up to the series’ dramatic final scenes in the two story arcs (Shi Guang and Yu Liang’s relationship as rivals and Chu Ying’s mission) that drag a little, but I don’t begrudge the series these brief lapses when we get touching characters like the loyal Hong He making his own life choices. The rewards are many in Hikaru No Go, and it’s one of my favorites in 2020.

#hao-fushen, #hikaru-no-go, #hu-xianxu, #iqiyi, #ji-li, #jiang-baichaun, #sun-can, #zhang-chao, #zhao-haohong

Everything is good about The Bad Kids

I’ve not posted much recently because I’ve not been watching much recently (and we can blame The Untamed for this because I’ve fallen down the fanfic AU rabbit hole in great part for this), but I have watched some very good dramas lately. Top of the list has to be The Bad Kids, a Chinese drama that is dark, well-written, and definitely for those who loved My Ahjussi and dramas of that type.

In fact, I committed to another streaming service subscription in order to watch it (thank you, IQIYI), and I’m not sorry that I did so. Now if they only had a Roku app…

But I digress. And this is a series that deserves your full attention.

The series starts off with a bang, or should I say a push; just some guy committing a little murder. You could call it a reverse cliffhanger because the background to that and the introduction to the titular bad kids is revealed in slow, incremental pieces, and the tension builds sequentially. Oh, and not only do we have that opening stunner, the ending of each episode is a true cliffhanger. This is a drama where the tension at the end is so tight you do not want to watch it when you’re trying to relax at the end of an evening. Just saying…

I mentioned the acting being superb; it is, and I want to know how they find such talented child actors to play roles like this. You have the highly intelligent bookworm raised by his divorced mother, Chaoyang; his best friend, a runaway from a state run orphanage, Liang; and fellow runaway Pu, who needs to find money to pay for her brother’s leukemia treatment, and together they are involved in one drastic moment after another. These kids will break your heart because they are so much on their own, must be so self-reliant on each other because there is no one else they can fully rely on. Only model student Chaoyang has a parent in his life, but she’s employed at a resort and often stays away in the dorms there as part of her work, whereas Liang’s father is locked up and Pupu is an orphan. Especially in the case of Liang, you see the resilience born of need, the unwarranted self-confidence that he can make his own decisions, and it creates nothing but worry when watching him. The little actress who plays Pupu is a heartbreaker with her luminous eyes and fragile figure, but she’s the glue in this threesome.

Without revealing too much of the plot, the three come across information that leads them into a dangerous course of action. In lesser hands, and in other worlds their decisions would come across as implausible, but because they’ve been thrust into a world in which they must be self-reliant and feel that they have few alternatives, those choices are not far fetched (even if you shout at them across the screen, “don’t do that!”)

The adults in this drama do their fair share too, from the math teacher antagonist Qin Hao, to the two policemen who have the power to change the course of the story (Lu Fang Sheng, who plays Ye Jun might look familiar to those who’ve seen The Longest Day In Chang’An where he played another investigator). And, when you have children who’ve fallen into these desperate situations, you have those adults who have let them down, either intentionally, or due to their own circumstances. Chaoyang’s mother is a case in point; as a divorced single parent it’s clear her life isn’t an easy one, but her actions in raising him and trying to do the right thing contribute, albeit indirectly, to what transpires.

With all this being said, I encourage you to check out The Bad Kids. IQIYI allows for trial free watching for newcomers, so take advantage of that. (Also, they’re bringing out content I’m not seeing on some other sites, so it will be worth keeping an eye on them.) The steamy, almost palpable tropical setting in Ningzhou is the perfect setting for a drama like this one this summer.

#dollar-rong, #iqiyi, #lu-fang-shen, #qin-hao, #shi-peng-yuan, #the-bad-kids, #wang-jing-chun, #wang-sheng-di, #zhu-chao-yang

First Look: Princess Agents

A surprising beginning, especially considering that Viki had this one under “romantic comedy,” and I can’t imagine what they were smoking.

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#legend-of-chu-qiao, #lin-geng-xin, #princess-agents, #shawn-dou, #xing-zhao-lin, #zhao-yi-ling

Omo.

eternal_love

The hottest guy with horns I’ve ever seen! LOL.

#eternal-love

Finished “Story of Ming Lan”

minglancover

The 73 episodes were a surprisingly easy inhale.

Also Ming Lan is A BOSS!

That ass kicking I wanted? Got it.
The character focus I was expecting? Got it.
The clever, resourceful badass little girl in the beginning of the drama who wanted justice? GOT HER BACK!
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#feng-shao-feng, #story-of-ming-lan, #zhao-yi-ling

“Story of Ming Lan” — Up to Ep. 25

minglan

This is totally a Chinese “Sense and Sensibility,” with some “Pride and Prejudice” and “Northanger Abbey” thrown in. LOL. Well, not really, but it has that same sort of feel!
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#feng-shao-feng, #story-of-ming-lan, #zhao-yi-ling

“Story of Ming Lan” — Up to Ep. 9

minglangirl2

May I just say how much I love this child?

This drama sure is taking its time getting started. Though the title is “Story of Ming Lan,” Ming Lan appears in maybe 10 percent of each episode, if that, and so far has no active role in any of the conflicts and crises around her.
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#feng-shao-feng, #story-of-ming-lan, #zhao-yi-ling